UN representatives speaking in Colombo on Friday, said Sri Lanka must reform its legal system to meet UN standards.
The three-member Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who were in Sri Lanka on a two-week official visit, commended the government for its continuing engagement with UN human rights mechanisms.
“The visit of the Working Group and the recent visits of other UN Special Procedures are a clear example of such engagement,” they said in their end-of- mission report.
They also said the country’s recent acceptance of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture was a positive sign and praised the government’s National Human Rights Action Plan.
“Many issues raised by the Working Group are consistent with the commitments made by the government in its National Action Plan,” they said.
But in a visit that included inspections of 30 detention centers and interviews with more than 100 imprisoned persons, the working group members said that “urgent action” was required to remedy the current situation.
“Court proceedings were affected by excessive and unjustified delays, while suspects remained in detention indefinitely,” UN Working Group member Leigh Toomey said. “The presumption of innocence and due process were yet to be fully recognized.”
The panel recommended repealing special powers enacted during states of emergency, particularly the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979, which they said was one of the “key enablers of arbitrary detention for over four decades in this country.”
“Any new legislation must be in accordance with international human rights law and best practices,” they said.
In the meantime, citizens’ rights are still being violated by “an excessive use of remand, a lack of effective alternatives to detention, an outdated legal framework and reliance on confessions often extracted under torture, duress, or coercion,” they said.
The three-member delegation of Leigh Toomey, Jose Antonion Guevara Bermudez, and Elina Steinerte also met with government officials, judges, lawyers, and civil society organizations.
They travelled to Colombo, Negombo, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Polonnaruwa.